Biking, Back Pain, and Balzer

I like gear. I like gadgets and gizmos and tinkering with new things. You’re talking about 1% improvement? I’m totally in*.

*Except for when there’s fitness information based on a “statistically significant” study that may be useful but has little chance of improving one’s quality of life. Then I’m a hard sell.

Most of my gear fascination right now is how mountain bike technology works, and it’s not uncommon for me start a story to my fiancè with, “Today on Pinkbike…” Katie is an absolute Shimano Saint for listening to me talk about 29’ers in downhill.

Two weeks ago, I explored some of my nerdiness by sliding the seat on my bike about an inch further forward than it’s been for the last year or so.  As I hit the trails, it felt almost instantaneously as if I had a brand new bike.  There was far more room to move around, and I found myself riding smoother than ever.  Except for the whole sitting down and pedaling part of the ride, that is.

About 30 minutes into the ride my lower back began to get tired, and not in the “Oh, these muscles are working” kind of way.  It was in the “Hey, your spine feels pretty pissed off right now” sort of way.

Conveniently, I had an acupuncture appointment scheduled later that day, and when I walked out of the clinic, I was feeling way better. Until I wasn’t.

Over the course of the next week, it felt as if my lower back continued to get more sore and more painful, even as I cut back on my workouts and focused on self-care.  Foam rolling, mobility drills, Epsom salt baths, naps, nutrition; I did everything that I’d ever suggest to others as a fitness expert. And none of it worked.

By the following week, I was like the Tin Man, and had to ask Tanner Baze to cover a few classes at MFF so that I could get off my feet.  I had exhausted the resources in my particular skill set, and my patience for tolerating pain had come to an end. So, I texted my friend, and top-notch physical therapist, Kyle Balzer.  We scheduled an appointment for 2pm the next day, and I instantly felt 10% better.The next day, I hopped on the train to head to

The next day, I hopped on the train to head to Drive 495 in Soho, and I felt another 10% better.  That’s 20% better, for those of you keeping track. I joked about the biopsychosocial model with fellow nerds and Drive coaches Thiago Passos and Chris Wicus when I arrived and they both asked, “How much of the pain is in your head?” “Probably most of it, I responded!”

I got into Kyle’s office, filled him in on what I was experiencing, and we started going through some assessments. I’m probably a pain in the ass to treat because I’m usually asking Kyle what he’s thinking, what the assessment algorithm is, and what he’s thinking.  Remember, I’m a nerd, so asking lots of questions feels normal to me. Kyle’s great about answering what’s actually important and figure out what to do next.

After about 90 minutes of moving, manual therapy, and learning some moves, I had my homework to work on and I was back into the world.  At that point, I was feeling 90% better and trusted that I’d get to 100% after doing my homework. As I write this 4 days later I’m at 95.35%, so things are rolling along just as I expected!

I’ve been doing my homework religiously, and yesterday I realized how great I’ve been feeling when I found myself camped out in this deep squat as comfortably as ever:

As a coach and program designer, I feel pretty comfortable writing or modifying workouts for people who are experiencing pain or discomfort.  I’ve attended several courses and continuing education events that address pain for personal trainers.  I’m also the first person to note that it’s outside of the scope of practice for personal trainers or strength coaches to treat pain – we’re not medical professionals.

If a Ninja comes into MFF or an online client e-mails me about discomfort or pain, I often ask them if they’ve seen someone who’s qualified to address the issue.  I’d rather you swap your workout for treatment so that your next workout can be as good as you want it to be, not a concession of compromises in the moment.

We can make adjustments to a workout, but if you’re still hurting at the end of the day, we’re forgetting about the quality of life component that flows through all of this:

Are you improving your quality of life?

For me, that’s what it comes down to.  Are the activities that you choose to pursue, are the investments of time and money, are they improving the quality of your life? That answer should be “Yes” more often than it’s not.

Mountain biking is absolutely my favorite form of physical activity right now.  There’s nothing as exhilarating to me as when I can smash through some rocks in the woods without slowing down. Being able to walk comfortably after that? More important for quality of life.

Thanks to Kyle, and bad-ass physical therapists like him, it’s easier for me to get back on the bike doing what I love to do. PT has improved the quality of my life, and I think it can help other people as well. If you’re currently doing things that hurt, make sure to find a good clinician in your area. (Clinical Athlete is a good place to start.)

Now, I’m off to go put my seat in a more sensible position. I’ll see you next time!

2 Replies to “Biking, Back Pain, and Balzer”

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